Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Apple Pie - It's Not as American as You Think by Jo-Ann Roberts

With Thanksgiving less than ten days away, many of us are planning our holiday feast...or more specifically, planning the desserts to make for family and friends!

In our family it's no different. Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete with my daughter's Apple Crostata (an Italian version of an open-faced apple pie).

Growing up in a large, extended Italian family, I naturally equate food to family and love. While I'm an okay cook, I'm a much better baker. So, I usually mention food in my sweet historical romances...which leads me down the rabbit hole to find authentic foods the pioneers in the Old West might have eaten.

In my upcoming release, Noelle - Christmas Quilt Brides, the hero Coleman West recalls eating Vinegar Pie as a child. But that's a blog for another time.

Today, it's all about apple pie. 

 Photo Credit: Pinterest

Believe it or not, apple pie has a surprisingly un-American history. In fact, apples aren't even native to North America and didn't grow here until the arrival of European settlers. And cinnamon and nutmeg? Those came from as far away as the Far East (Sri Lanka and Indonesia)

According to food historians, apple pie originated in England. It arose from culinary influences in France, the Netherlands, and the Middle East as early as 1390--centuries before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. When they landed, the only indigenous tree of the species they could find was the crab apple. They found it to be a far cry from the apples they usually had eaten back home, as crab apples were to0 sour to eat and were much smaller in size.

During colonial times, the European explorers did not eat apples but instead used them in making the alcoholic 'hard cider'. How did they remedy this situation? Transport apples from Europe through tree cuttings and seeds. The initial problem was pollination which made it difficult for the trees in North America to bear fruit. This problem was solved when European honeybees were introduced. After that, colonists began growing their domesticated apples in the country.

By 1800, some of those 14,000 varieties of apples were a good fit for apple pie. Around the same time, John Chapman planted so many apple trees in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana that he earned his nickname, "Johnny Appleseed."

Courtesy of Harper's Monthly, 1871

As the pioneers pushed westward, public interest in new fruit varieties of apples, pears, and peaches were discovered and introduced into their menus.

Easy and affordable, apple pie was a typical American cuisine by the 18th and 19th centuries. But it didn't become associated with our cultural identity until the 20th century, when advertising, news, and two world wars transformed the dish into a nationalist symbol.

Though the exact origin of the phrase "as American as apple pie" is unclear, a 1928 New York Times article used it to describe the homemaking abilities of First Lady Lou Henry Hoover. By World War II, it was a symbol of feminine love associated with home, warmth, and soldiers proudly proclaimed that they were fighting for "mom and apple pie." 

Interesting Facts About Apple Pie
The early English people didn't use sugar to sweeten the pies as it was very expensive. Rather, they used sweet fruits like figs, raisins, pears, and honey.

In the beginning, apple pies had a "take-off" crust. The apples were first baked in a crust, the Top crust was then removed, and sweeteners and spices were added. The pie was served with the top crust replaced.

                                                       Photo Credit:  Pinterest

The American West settlers made mock apple pie because they didn't have apples, so they used crackers and special spices, and though it tasted like real apple pie. Some people still make it mock apple pie today. 

Maria Ann Smith was an inspiration for the name Granny Smith apple variety. Mrs. Smith was well-known for her fruit pies, and the Smiths were apple farmers. She accidentally crossed a wild European crab apple with a more commonly grown orchard apple to make a new kind of apple.

Symbolism aside, apple pie actually does represent America, but not for the reasons most people think. Apple pie is American because it illustrates how cultures worldwide can join together to create something new and altogether wonderful. Like apples, we're all transplants.

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